Working with a communications agency can be incredibly stimulating and productive. But not everyone knows how to get the best from their account team, especially clients who have not worked with a consultancy before.

So here are some basic guidelines for having a great relationship with your agency and getting the best possible return on your investment.

Start with a realistic plan and achievable objectives

The best approach is to work with the team to set some sensible goals at the start of a campaign. Consensus is a much better idea than imposing ‘do or die’ arbitrary targets on the agency. And remember that communications, like marketing, is all about creating the right conditions for effective selling. It can’t do everything!

Treat the account team as part of your own work group

Get to know the people involved. Find out about their strengths and weaknesses. Encourage and help them whenever you can. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t criticise poor service or complain when things go wrong. After all, you’re the client and you are paying. Agencies understand that.

Celebrate great work by your agency team

Agency people want to impress their clients and do well for them. They love achieving great results and respond really well to praise from clients. If you want to get the best from your agency team, let them know when they have done a good job. There is nothing quite like a nice email from a client to motivate an account executive. The flip side to this is that constant criticism, especially if it’s unwarranted, is very unhelpful and demotivating. And, in the end, that works against you as a client.

Keep the agency informed of what is going on in your business

Agencies are at their most effective when they know they are completely in tune with their client’s strategy or changing tactical needs. You can’t blame them for being out of sync with your business’ direction if you don’t make them aware of any changes of focus. Always keep the team fully up to speed with what is going on in your business.

Make sure you establish a great reporting system

Reporting and performance measurement systems are crucial to the success of any agency relationship. Make sure you are completely comfortable with how your agency deals with this and ask for changes to the system if you think they are necessary.

Understand that comms can be a hit-and-miss business

Just because a national newspaper runs a feature on, say, FinTech, it doesn’t mean that every company providing technology to the financial services sector is going to get a mention, no matter how hard their agencies have tried. The name of the game is to build a profile, gain coverage and help clients create more engagement opportunities within their market than their competitors. It’s not about measuring coverage: it’s about measuring its impact over time. If an opportunity is missed, talk to the agency so you can understand what happened and find out what’s coming down the track to balance things out.

Listen to your agency people

They are the experts in communications. That is why you hire them. Don’t tell them how to do their job. If they say some content your company has produced needs rewriting then let them get on with it. If they don’t like an idea or plan that you come up with and think it’s not going to work, listen to what they have to say. They know what they are doing and will come up with something better.

Put things right when they go wrong

Communications is an up-and-down business and things do go wrong from time to time. The best approach is to talk to the most senior person you can find in the agency and be very specific about your concerns. Give the agency a chance to put things right. Don’t get over excited; just calmly agree with the agency a fixed timetable to resolve specific problems.

Get the most from the brightest and best people

Communications consultancy is a constantly demanding and intellectually challenging job and it attracts lots of very bright, committed people who really want to make a difference to their clients. Your job is to harness and focus your agency team’s talent, energy and intelligence.

Enjoy the ride!

Many clients love working with agencies. They find it creative, fun and fulfilling. And so it should be. How many opportunities do we get in life to develop great ideas, work out how to put them into action and then see the results? And sometimes, all that can happen in a single day before lunch. 

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